Estimates: Australian diplomatic advocacy in West Papua
30 May 2012 | Richard Di Natale
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee - 30 May 2012
Senator Richard Di Natale questioned Foreign Minister Carr about the government's response to the imprisonment of protesters in West Papua
Senator DI NATALE: I am aware that the Human Rights Law Centre, together with Human Rights Watch, in November last year wrote an open letter to the foreign minister in the lead up to the 50th anniversary of West Papua's unofficial independence day calling on the government to ensure full and free access of journalists; to deploy embassy staff to monitor and observe events; to reiterate the government's support for the rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association; and to release all persons detained in Papua for the peaceful expression of their political views. Following on from that, in February of this year the Human Rights Law Centre, together with International Lawyers for West Papua, wrote to the government urging them to raise concerns about the criminal trials of Papuan activists and to deploy embassy staff to observe the legal proceedings for those activists who were detained for, ostensibly, peaceful assembly. Did the department take any of these steps in response to that request?
Senator Bob Carr: The answer is that the Australian embassy officials routinely visit the Papuan provinces of Indonesia and last did so in March. Australian embassy officials also make representations to the Indonesian government on human rights in the Papuan provinces and last did so in April. The matter was most recently raised during the Australia-Indonesia two plus two ministerial dialogue on March 15, which I attended with my Indonesian counterpart, Dr Marty Natalegawa. The Prime Minister discussed human rights with President Yudhoyono back in November last year in Bali and we continue to register with Indonesia the importance of access to the Papuan provinces for credible observers and the importance of ensuring that the human rights of all Indonesians are respected. We have got a significant AusAID program in those two provinces as well. While we do not support the political objectives of the five men who were convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment for subversion, Australia has a consistent and universal position of upholding the right to express political views freely and peacefully. Australian embassy officials in Jakarta raised our concerns over the convictions with the Indonesian government on 4 April 2012. I should repeat though, as I have done almost ritualistically—and did so when I answered a question on this subject in the Senate on 20 March 20—that the government does not support independence for the Papuan provinces. We have long recognised the territorial integrity of Indonesia, including its sovereignty over these provinces. This is a bipartisan position. It is outlined by the signing and ratifying of the Lombok treaty with Indonesia in 2006 and 2008 respectively. The best chance for a secure and prosperous future for the people of the provinces of Papua and West Papua lies within an integrated Indonesian state.
Senator DI NATALE: I am pleased to hear that concerns have been raised about the detention of the Papuan activists. Were there any embassy staff actually employed to observe the legal proceedings for the purpose of ensuring that the protesters received a fair trial?
Senator Bob Carr: No.
Senator DI NATALE: So the concerns were expressed after the verdict was handed down?
Senator Bob Carr: The concerns were expressed. Whether it was afterwards, or during the process, I do not know.
Senator DI NATALE: How would you express concerns during the process if they had not been convicted?
Senator Bob Carr: By repeating the Australian position that, while not supporting the aspirations and political objectives of the five men involved, Australia does not believe that the expression of political views should be treated as a criminal offence.
Senator DI NATALE: But you are not sure if you made those views clear before the verdict or afterwards?
Senator Bob Carr: No. I do not think much hinges on that. We made our views clear and they are consistent.
Senator DI NATALE: I suppose it depends on whether they listened or not.
Senator Bob Carr: There would be a stronger case in human rights terms for making them clear before there
was an outcome of the court.
Senator DI NATALE: That is right. So I would be interested to see when that approach was made. Could you perhaps take that on notice and let me know when that discussion was had?
Senator Bob Carr: I am happy to do that.